China often dominates the headlines in negative ways. As a teenager I remember looking at a cover of Time with a picture of China and exploration about how their rising economy will affect and maybe harm America. These types of articles tend to play well with the American public. China, with its mysterious history, hard to pronounce names, and distinct culture often provides equal parts of awe and confusion. This means that any story about a rising China, new military technology, strategy, or even aggression ends up being rather scary but often doesn’t do a great deal to educate. Each article that does this is usually only about 600 words long and does little to provide basics or background about China; they simply cover the weapon system or disputed island in question, which ends up feeding the same narrative.
But my new book Dragon’s Claws with Feet of Clay: A Primer on Modern Chinese Strategy intends to overcome those limitations by providing a brief foundation of the major concepts needed for a reader to understand any and every article they encounter in the news. This foundation consists of a set of interrelated factors that includes a brief background of the technical capabilities and likely use for major weapons systems, the relationship between history and geography in the region, a discussion on Chinese strategy and assessment of U.S. counter-measures, and the training of both U.S. and Chinese forces. When the reader is done they should have better context with which to assess developments in Chinese foreign policy. They should know the difference between a hypersonic and attack missile, understand the development of missile and counter-missile technology and tactics, locate the Spratly Islands on a map (but their won’t be a test on it!), understand the connection between technology and training, have insights into the ancient military theorists like Sunzi (Sun-Tzu), and the impact his teachings have on modern warfare. America and Americans as well as a worldwide audience should reasonably consider every new weapon system from a potential foe, its capabilities, effects on the battlefield, and assess the proper response to it. Most important, the reader will be able to see through the scare-mongering rhetoric that politicians often rely upon to offer their considered opinion.
Unlike other books on Chinese strategy, this one shows the ways that hardware and doctrine reflect geography, but it also doesn’t use ancient Chinese history and theory to constrain or lead the analysis. Instead, the book uses a judicious application of Chinese military theory and a broad application of history ranging from Germany’s reliance on the King Tiger tank, possible peace disease in America’s Gulf War, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and the late Song Dynasty to provide a much more nuanced analysis. It also examines the other side of the equation, providing longed-for analysis of possible U.S. counter-measures. During a time when Chinese actions inspire breathless commentary from news outlets and fearmongering from politicians, Dragon’s Claws with Feet of Clay provides a much-needed introduction to understand the potential threat from China and reasonable American reactions.